A Humorous Guest Article on Advertising Gaffes


Bite the Wax Tadpole-Advertising Gaffes

American English Gaffes

By Blog Daddy

I have always said that we as Americans should learn just a few words in other languages, it’s healthy for the mind to expand one’s education.  I have always found it a pleasant experience when dining in a foreign atmosphere when the person tending to me can say; Please, Thank You, Is your meal enjoyable, and even Good Morning and Good Evening. Considering we are the only country in the world that speaks mainly one language, it’s kind of embarrassing really.

I have collected these Gaffes from various places on the web, interesting to see that even giant corporations often overlook translations from one language and culture to the next.  In some cases as you will read, it can be a quiet expensive mistake!

American MedicalAmerican medical containers were distributed in Great Britain and caused quite a stir. The instructions to “Take off top and push in bottom,” innocuous to Americans, had very strong sexual connotations to the British.

Bacardi-Bacardi concocted a fruity drink with the name ‘Pavian’ to suggest French chic … but ‘Pavian’ means ‘baboon’ in German.

Boots-On the label of Boot’s “Children’s” cough medicine – DO NOT DRIVE A CAR OR OPERATE MACHINERY.

Braniff-When Braniff translated a slogan touting its upholstery, “Fly in leather,” it came out in Spanish as “Fly naked.”

Clairol-A hair products company, Clairol, introduced the “Mist Stick”, a curling iron, into Germany only to find out that mist is slang for manure. Not too many people had use for the manure stick.

Coca Cola-When Coca Cola was first introduced into China they named it Ke-Kou-Ke-La. Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”, depending on the dialect.

Coke then researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent: Ko-Kou-Ko-Le, which can be roughly translated as “happiness in the mouth.” (have you seen what it can do to teeth?).

In some countries, on the bottom of Coke bottles it says “OPEN OTHER END.”

Colgate-Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a notorious porno magazine.

Coors-Coors the American brewer lost its fizz in Spain when their hip phrase “Turn It Loose” came out as “Get Diarrhea”.

Dairy Association-The American Dairy Association’s huge success with its campaign “Got Milk?” prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention that the Spanish translation read “Are you lactating?”

Eyeglasses-A company advertised eyeglasses in Thailand by featuring a variety of cute animals wearing glasses. The ad was a poor choice since animals are considered to be a form of low life and no self respecting Thai would wear anything worn by animals.

Electrolux-Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American ad campaign: Nothing sucks like an Electrolux. But in America if something ‘sucks’ it means it is really bad.

Ford-Ford seemed to have a problem in Brazil where sales of the Pinto flopped. On investigation the company found out that Pinto was Brazilian slang for “tiny male genitals.” Ford pried the nameplates off and substituted Corcel, which means “horse.”


Fresca-The soft drink Fresca was being promoted by a saleswoman in Mexico. She was surprised that her sales pitch was greeted with laughter, and later embarrassed when she learned that fresca is slang for “lesbian.”

General Motors-“Body by Fisher”, boasted the auto giant General Motors. “Corpse by Fisher” was how the Belgians read it.

General Motors-When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that “no va” means “it won’t go.” After the company figured out why it wasn’t selling any cars, it renamed the car in its Spanish markets to the Caribe.

Gerber-When Gerber first started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the USA — with a cute baby on the label. Later they found out that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the label of what is inside since many people cannot read!

Ikea-Ikea is a Swedish company and so some of their products sound strange in English, but kind of cool. However, calling a children’s work bench ‘FartFull’ wasn’t a good idea. In Swedish, “fartfull” simply means “speedy. In English it has a totally different connotation (full of farts).

Kellogg’s-Kellogg had to rename its Bran Buds cereal in Sweden when it discovered that the name roughly translated to “burned farmer.”

Kentucky Fried Chicken-In Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan “finger-lickin’ good” came out as “eat your fingers off.”

Marks and Spencer-Label on a Marks & Spencer’s Bread Pudding – PRODUCT WILL BE HOT AFTER HEATING.

Nytol-On the label of their sleeping aid – WARNING MAY CAUSE DROWSINESS.

Oil-An American oil rig supervisor in Indonesia shouted at an employee to take a boat to shore. Since it is no-one berates an Indonesian in public, a mob of outraged workers chased the supervisor with axes.

Otis Engineering-When Otis Engineering took part in an exhibition in Moscow, a translator somehow managed to render a “completion equipment” sign into “equipment for orgasms”.

Parker Pens-Parker Pens translated the slogan for its ink, “Avoid Embarassment – Use Quink” into Spanish as “Evite Embarazos – Use Quink” … which also means “Avoid Pregnancy – Use Quink.”

When Parker Pen marketed a ballpoint pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to say “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarass you.” However, the company mistakenly thought the spanish word embarazar meant “embarass.” Instead, the ads said that “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant!”

Pepsi-Not to be outdone by Coke when Pepsi started a marketing campaign in Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan “Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation” came out as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”

Pepsodent-Pepsodent tried to sell its toothpaste in Southeast Asia by emphasizing that it “whitens your teeth.” They found out that the local natives chew betel nuts to blacken their teeth which they find attractive.

Politics-When President George Bush went to Japan with Lee Iacocca and other American business magnates, and directly made explicit and direct demands on Japanese leaders, they violated Japanese etiquette. To the Japanese (who use high context language) it is considered rude and a sign of ignorance or desperation to lower oneself to make direct demands. Some analysts believe it severely damaged the negotiations and confirmed to the Japanese that Americans are barbarians.

U.S. and British negotiators found themselves at a standstill when the American company proposed that they “table” particular key points. In the U.S. “Tabling a motion” means to not discuss it, while the same phrase in Great Britain means to “bring it to the table for discussion.”

Puff-Puffs tissues another US company tried to introduce its product, only to learn that “Puff” in German is a colloquial term for a whorehouse. The English weren’t too fond of the name either, as it’s a highly derogatory term for a homosexual.

Purdue-Chicken-man Frank Purdue’s slogan, “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken,” got badly mangled in a Spanish translation. A photo of Purdue with one of his birds appeared on billboards all over Mexico with a caption that translated as “It takes a hard man to make a chicken affectionate.”

Rowenta-On packaging for a Rowenta iron – DO NOT IRON CLOTHES ON BODY.

Sainsbury-On a packet of their peanuts – WARNING – CONTAINS NUTS.

Schweppes Tonic Water-In Italy, a compaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into Schweppes Toilet Water!

Sears-On a Sears hairdryer – DO NOT USE WHILE SLEEPING.

Sharwoods-When Sharwoods launched its latest product range in the UK earlier this month, it promised the “deliciously rich” sauces based on a traditional northern Indian method of cooking would “change the way consumers make curry”. So confident was Sharwoods that its new ‘Bundh’ sauces would be a hit that it backed the launch with a huge £6 million ($14.2 million) television advertising campaign.

What it failed to foresee was that “bundh” in Punjabi has an altogether less savoury meaning – the nearest English translation being, to put it bluntly, “arse”.

Soft Drinks-A soft drink was introduced into Arab countries with an attractive label that had stars on it–six-pointed stars. The Arabs interpreted this as pro-Israeli and refused to buy it. Another label was printed in ten languages, one of which was Hebrew–again the Arabs did not buy it.


Swann-On a Swann frozen dinner – “Serving suggestion: Defrost.”

Sweetcorn-Jolly Green Giant translated into Arabic means “Intimidating Green Ogre.”

Tesco-On Tesco’s Tiramisu dessert (printed on bottom of the box) – DO NOT TURN UPSIDE DOWN.

English translation in other countries proves to be just as difficult and as humorous.

  • In a Belgrade hotel elevator: To move the cabin, push the button for wishing floor. If the cabin should enter more persons, each one should press a number of wishing floor. Driving is then going alphabetically by national order.
  • In a Yugoslavian hotel: The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid.
  • In a Bangkok dry cleaner’s: Drop your trousers here for best results.
  • In an East African newspaper: A new swimming pool is rapidly taking shape since the contractors have thrown in the bulk of their workers.
  • Detour sign in Kyushi, Japan: Stop–Drive sideways.
  • At a Budapest zoo: Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.

When advertising, some diversity in your marketing department is very important!



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This article, Advertising Gaffes-Bite The Wax Tadpole , is syndicated from Clean Me and is reposted here with permission.
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